"Designed by Ear. Verified by Science." So says the promotional material from Nashville-based LSA, who were demming the pretty LSA1 Statement speaker ($2600/pair) at Axpona, driven by their 150Wpc Statement hybrid integrated amplifier ($5000). This amplifier uses a pair of Electroharmonix 6922 tubes in its preamp section but a solid-state output stage. The speaker combines a treated paper-cone woofer with an Aurum Cantus folded-ribbon tweeter and uses Alphacore air-cored inductors in its crossover. Listening to a laidback blues from George Faber, "It Beats Working," I was impressed by the smoothness of the highs and the low-frequency extension of this nicely finished two-way.
Responses to my first “Entry Level” column have been wonderfulfar more detailed, thoughtful, and encouraging than I could have imagined or hoped. Many of the letters I’ve received tell stories about first experiences with hi-fi, and, within those, many readers fondly recall building their own loudspeakers.
To many of today’s teens and young adults, the thought of building a loudspeaker would be completely foreign and unrealistic, if not plain irrational and silly: Why build a loudspeaker? But, decades ago, doing things yourself, with tools and instructions, was not only the easiest way of accomplishing a goal, but often also the best, cheapest, and most enjoyable and satisfying waya way of life we’ve sadly forgotten.
Companies like Madisound and the Meniscus Audio Group try to preserve that tradition, offering all the parts and knowledge required to those who are interested in doing things themselves. Here we see an array of Madisound speakers, all built from kits. I spoke with Mark Sayer, speaker guy of Meniscus Audio Group, who has been building his own speakers since he was a child. For him, the experience is more about the process than the product, a way of slowing things down.
MBL's Jeremy Bryan had an interesting problem when set up his system at Axpona, in that while the hotel room was large, it was also double-story, with a 16' ceiling and an acoustic nightmare of a mezzanine level at the rear. Jeremy, shown in the photo next to the unanticipated in-room stairway, solved it by packing the mezzanine floor with queen-size mattresses that had been emptied from other hotel rooms. The system was the same used at SSI in Montreal two weeks ago101E Mk.2 omnidirectional speakers driven by gigantic 9011 monoblock amplifiers, a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converterand I listened to the same hi-rez solo piano recording made by MBL's long-time chief engineer Jürgen Reiss, "Walchensee, Mondnacht," performed by Martin Vatter, from the album Klangbilder. Once again, the piano sound was disturbingly lifelike, with full-range dynamics.
An enthusiastic crowd turned up on the first morning of the Show to catch Michael Fremer's workshop on how to optimally set-up a turntable. With the help of close-up video, Michael used a Spiral Groove turntable and arm, and Lyra cartridge to show how to optimize headshell offset, overhang, antiskating, VTA, azimuth, and other analog mysteries. The session is being repeated Saturday at 11:30am in the Goldmine seminar room.
Well, not really miles, but definitely a lot. Feet and cones and spikes and pucks and all sorts of fun stuff. I kinda just wanted to run as fast as I could and fling myself right up onto this table to swim with all of these little goodies. But I managed to restrain myself.
A trio of Musical Fidelity V-Series products: V-CAN headphone amplifier ($199), V-DAC D/A converter ($299), and the asynchronous V-Link 24/96 USB to S/PDIF converter ($169), all tied together by budget-priced AudioQuest cables. These products may be affordable, but they offer true high-end sound quality.
Upon walking into the Napa Acoustic room, I heard many expressions of awe and disbelief as attendees searched for subwoofers and asked, again and again, if the products’ stated prices were correct. Indeed, the system hereNapa NA208 A amplifier ($399), NA208S speakers ($199), and DT-307C CD player ($399)filled the room with solid, believable sound and music.
The brand made its debut at last year’s Jacksonville Axpona. While all of Napa’s current manufacturing takes place in China, the company’s Joseph Kwong told me he hopes to produce an affordable vacuum tube amp right at home, in Fremont, CA, in the not too distant future.
The larger speakers in the Role Audio room were the Model 100M from NSMT's Mastering Series ($5500/pair). An active two-way speaker, the 100M uses a coaxial drive-unit from SEAS in a well-finished enclosure made in the USA from formaldehyde-free materials. The sound, using a Squeezbox Touch and a Peachtree iDecco used as a DAC was rich, with good dynamics.
Check out the sexy Oracle Paris ($3150), available in four high-gloss finishes. This one is in red, and ladies love red.
It uses a carbon fiber Paris tonearm ($950), which begins as a Pro-Ject 9cc, but gets dressed up with Oracle’s Micro Vibration Stabiliser System, developed for the more expensive Delphi Mk.VI, and which uses a silicone damping bath and precision plunger fitted to the tonearm tube. The Paris phono cartridge ($1150), a high-output moving-magnet design, is machined from a magnesium-aluminum alloy. Fully assembled and pre-calibrated for a nearly plug-and-play installation, the Paris package costs $5000. The ‘table uses a semi-floating suspension system with Sorbothane decoupling, has a two-piece acrylic/aluminum platter system, includes adjustable Delrin feet and a Delrin record clamp, and uses the same motor and drive electronics found in the Delphi Mk.VI.
“We have a hard time compromising,” confessed Oracle’s Jacques Riendeau. “With the Paris, we pushed the limits of performance while hitting a lower price point.”
The Oracle Paris turntable acted as the analog source in a system which also included Oracle Audio electronics (SI 1000 integrated amplifier, DAC 1000 preamplifier-D/A converter, Paris phono preamplifier), 4-way Induction Dynamics ID1.15 loudspeakers ($17,750/pair; sexy red finish adds $2500/pair), and Kimber Select cables (all-copper KS6063 speaker cable: $4400/8ft pair; copper-silver hybrid KS6065 speaker cable: $8000/8ft pair; copper-silver hybrid KS1026 interconnects: $1320/1m; Paladium power cords: around $1200).
Early on Friday morning, when I walked into the room, I heard more surface noise than I would like, but the music was nevertheless compelling, with images that just seemed to grow and grow and grow from a dark background. I heard a classical guitar rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” that managed to both rock and sway. While looking down to take notes, I could almost imagine live musicians in the room with me.
Here’s a closer look at the BMC AMP M1 monoblock ($15,580/pair), rated to deliver 200W into 8 ohms and equipped with a massive 2-kilowatt toroidal transformer. That front-panel display looks like it could’ve come from the dashboard of my dad’s Cadillac. Vroom!
The modest-looking system being demmed by Atlanta dealer Playhouse Audio was my final stop on the first day of the Show but turned out to be one of the highlights of that day. Nola's new three-way Contender speaker ($3400/pair) was being driven by an Audia Flight FL2 integrated amplifier, with the source a Mach 2-modified Mac mini feeding USB data to a Peachtree iNova that was being used as a DAC. Cabling was all Harmonic Technology: Pro-10 speaker cable and Magic 2 interconnects, as well as a Silver Oval interconnect from Analysis Plus and a Platinum USB cable from Wireworld. In one of those too-rare audiophile moments where one track organically led to another to another to another. I listened to Dave Grisman and Tony Rice ("Turn of the Century" from Tone Poems), Taj Mahal and V.M. Bhatt ("Come On Over My House"), Herbie Hancock and Luciana Souza ("Amelia" from River: the Joni Letters), but a discovery for me among the music played was a live version of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" by Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl. Nice. Very nice.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dan Laufman, founder of Emotiva, and his daughter, Jessica, Emotiva’s new marketing director. So, what I’m about to say has nothing to do with business, but, then again, maybe it does: Sitting there at our dinner table, across from Dan and next to Jessica, I was soon struck by the genuine warmth, care, and admiration the two held for one another. It was sweet. And, over the course of our meal, I bought into Dan Laufman’s discussion of his company’s core values: pride, reliability, customer service, building strong relationships with clients, offering high-quality products at affordable prices, sharing a passion for music.
Emotiva’s products have often struck me as cold and unwelcomingodd, because the people behind the products are the complete oppositebut I must confess that my opinion has been based more on nomenclature and appearance than anything else. So I was anxious to visit the Emotiva room and listen again, with my revised perspective in place and my skepticism in check...
A look inside the Qualia & Co. Indigo Blue Reference preamplifier seems to reveal solid construction. Qualia products, manufactured in Japan, are scheduled to be available in the US sometime this summer.
A selection of RealTraps room treatments sit quietly in a quiet room. Discounted prices on RealTraps treatments were available to interested attendees, and many exhibitors used the popular panels to help tame their unwieldy rooms.